Gateway names field after baseball legends - East Valley Tribune: News

Gateway names field after baseball legends

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Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 6:20 pm | Updated: 3:31 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins is no stranger to having his name grace all kinds of things - but something at an airport?

Mesa did just that, naming a grassy courtyard at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport after Jenkins and Hall of Famer Bob Feller. The two pitchers were on hand Tuesday to dedicate the Fergie & Feller Field that passengers pass by on their way to boarding planes.

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"I've had baseball parks and streets named after me, but this is the first time I've had an airport field named after me," Jenkins joked.

The baseball-airport connection is stronger than one would expect.

The airport logs the most flights in March - 309 this month compared with 250 in February - because so many Midwesterners fly to Arizona to escape winter.

"March is far and away our busiest month of the year," airport director Lynn Kusy said. "A lot of it is spring training and some of it is spring break."

Both players have ties of their own to aviation or to the airport.

Jenkins, 67, practiced here for the Cubs during spring training and now, as an Anthem resident, he flies out of Gateway frequently for hunting and fishing excursions in Illinois and Iowa.

Feller, 91, has held a pilot's license for more than 50 years. The former Cleveland Indians player was in Arizona for spring training in the 1950s when the team was a pioneer in the Cactus League.

The field that bears their names is part of the airport's larger plans to make it more family-friendly. More kids pass through Gateway than typical airports because its passenger carrier, Allegiant Air, focuses on direct flights to smaller communities that major carriers don't target. Most passengers are families and not business travelers, Kusy said.

The airport has worked with a team of Arizona State University students to add kid-friendly features. It's considering additions such as TVs showing children's programs, play areas, better stroller access and perhaps museum pieces aimed at younger audiences.

The airport set aside $30,000 for the projects, some of which will be included in a $9 million terminal expansion that will open this fall.

The grassy field sits between the ticketing area and where planes depart and is often a place where parents watch their kids play before their plane takes off, Kusy said. Even adults enjoy it in the winter, snapping photos of a nearby saguaro or just enjoying the desert before returning to the bitter winter of places like North Dakota, he said.

"They'll linger here for the last bit of sunshine," Kusy said.

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